If you're one of the increasingly small number of people without a television set, you'll know what it's like to receive endless communications from the TV Licensing authority. Why haven't you got a TV licence? Are you sure you don't need a TV licence? Can we step inside please to check we can't fine you for not having a TV licence?
I'm a law abiding citizen, so I have a TV licence. But I'm also a member of a different TV-related subgroup that's subject to persistent payment nagging. I get regular communications, knocks on the door, and a general air of incredulity that I'm not taking part properly like any normal person would. What's my perceived problem? I don't have Sky television, that's what.
I don't want to have Sky television, thank you very much. They specialise in three areas I'm not desperately interested in, which are sport, movies and American drama. I can live without build-up plus live coverage plus postmortem of Bolton versus Aston Villa. I can live without seeing that sub-blockbuster film I deliberately didn't watch at the cinema. And I enjoyed the first two series of Glee, on terrestrial, but I'll live without seeing the third. Most of what Sky screens isn't original programming, it's bought-in channel fodder. Really, I have Freeview, I can do without. Yet Sky don't appear to be convinced.
They left me alone for years because they knew my flat was undishworthy. But very recently that's changed. Now there's a communal dish on the roof, and a telltale brown cable hanging down an outside wall. I didn't ask for it, Sky just put it there, ready and waiting for the day I succumb to multimedia temptation. It's like having a vampire lurking outside your window, occasionally tapping on the glass begging to be welcomed inside. I'm strong, I won't cave in. But nobody at Sky seems to think this is possible.
First came the letters, addressed to The Occupier, alerting me to my flat's imminent Sky-readiness. Coming soon, they said, so why not express an interest now? I didn't. They left a big poster in the hallway as a promotional reminder of sport/film/drama goodies to come. I considered throwing this out with the recycling, but I think another resident beat me to it. Then a flyer landed in my letterbox, and another letter, and another flyer, in case I'd somehow failed to notice the onslaught elsewhere. I binned the lot.
When Sky's dish finally went live I received another letter to the Occupier, and a nigh identical letter addressed to me personally. There followed a leaflet signed by somebody called Hussain who said he represented a specialist Sky-approved company who could make my installation pain-free. Hussain even knocked on my door at one point, although I'd heard him trying to chat up nextdoor so chose to ignore him. I should perhaps have opened up and told him in no uncertain terms that I'd never be interested. But I didn't, and still the letters come. "Great news! You can now get Sky entertainment in your flat!" Yes, I know, and I still don't care.
Many people complain about the scandalous cost of a TV licence, currently just under £150. But the cost of signing up to Sky is far higher. It's £234 a year for the most basic package, or £294 for all the main channels, or £537 for all that plus sport, or £624 for all that plus sport and movies. The full whack costs more than four times as much as a TV Licence, yet many households happily pay without a complaint.
And where does all this money go? Other than Rupert Murdoch's pocket, it seems a significant proportion goes on marketing. A Sky leaflet fell out of my newspaper on Saturday, the back page of this week's Radio Times is a Sky advert, and there was another Sky begging letter in my mailbox when I got home last night. Sky so desperately want me, and other refuseniks, to sign up because our first month's subscription will more than cover the cost of all the marketing they've carried out to reel us in. Then we're hooked long-term, and can continue to pay for the privilege of watching adverts interrupting cheap programmes of dubious cultural worth, like a farm of impotent goggle-eyed cash cows.
And still they plead. "Join Sky TV now and enjoy legendary value." No thanks, not even if you were the last television company on earth. And I pray that never happens.